The Feuds of the Clans, by Alexander MacGregor, , at sacred-texts.com
and Sutherland shires, and the many interesting isles that lie beyond. Even still, there are many lakes, mountains, and localities of interest that remain but very partially explored in Coigeach, Assynt, and the internal regions of the county of Sutherland. It is but of late that the singular natural embrasures of the beautiful Loch Maree have been seen. Until within the last few years the rough country pathway was quite impassable for, wheeled carriages of every description, and even to the traveller, if a stranger, it was anything but pleasant. The consequence was that few indeed had ever seen it but the natives alone. Pennant and M‘Culloch are, we believe, the only two scientific men who, until of late years, had visited it. But how rich the reward when attained! The mountains around the lake are of great height, and of a beautifully characterised and irregular outline. The shores present an immense variety of very interesting and romantic scenery. In fact, the mountains, and the loch, with its many islands, are among the finest specimens of the grand and picturesque to be found in Scotland.
The Isle of Skye, likewise, lay in the same secluded state as to its natural curiosities until within the last half-century. I remember, myself, when the now far-famed Quiraing was but little seen and still less known. The same may be said of Loch-cor-uisge, the Spar Cave, the Cullin Hills, and the other endless varieties of grand scenery in that distinguished isle. Sir Walter Scott with his pen, Horatio M‘Culloch and others with their pencils, were among the first to bring Cor-uisge into notice. The Spar Cave, commonly called "Slochd Altraman," was at first discovered by the crew of a boat who took shelter from the storm in the mouth of the cave, who kindled a fire there, and by the light of it observed the lofty vaulted cave, sparkling with its pure white icicles of semi-transparent spar. But what a change has been effected by the lapse of a few years! These and hundreds of other localities in those interesting regions are now annually visited by hordes of eager tourists from every quarter of the kingdom, as well as from distant parts of the world. Very much credit for this mighty change is due to the Companies
of the Highland, Sutherland, Caithness, and Skye Railways, which have opened up more of the Highlands and Islands in a few years than has ever been done before. By means of these enterprising Companies, cheap and easy access can now be had to every parish and province in the far north and west. The most distant corners of the land, from John o’ Groat's to the Butt of Lewis, are brought within the range of a day's journey. Mountains and lakes, glens and dales, forests and plains, may be seen gliding past as if in a panoramic view when the inexhaustible iron horse speeds its rapid course along. Railways will create a revolution in the manners, customs, and language of the Highlands and Islands. Whilst our Gaelic Societies and our Celtic enthusiasts are straining their efforts to the utmost to prolong the existence and to preserve the speaking of the Gaelic tongue, the iron-horse alone is more powerful to counteract than are all their efforts to foster the progress of the Celtic language. The railway, although unintentionally, will do more to undermine the advancement of the Celtic as a spoken language in the Highlands
than a battalion of Blackies around a Celtic chair, or delivering eloquent lectures in every Highland town and parish, can possibly achieve to cherish it. In one point of view this is to be regretted, but in another it is not. Every philanthropist must acknowledge that two different languages spoken in two sections of a kingdom cannot tend to the civilisation of those who speak not the language of the nation at large. The sooner the sections become amalgamated and assimilated to each other in customs and language the better. The Highlanders are now, and ever were, faithful and fearless, and it is surely very delightful to see such qualities still existing in all their pristine strength, and existing, too, without that alloy of fierceness and ferocity which characterised them in the turbulence of feudal times. The Highlanders had their faults, no doubt, but a peculiar political situation was the cause of their faults, and that which swept away the cause has rendered the effects a tale of olden times.
I have said that the railway has opened up the romantic recesses of Skye and the
other isles to the delighted tourist, but another cause has operated powerfully to attract numberless sight-seers to the "Isle of Mist" to witness not only many points of attraction, but likewise other localities which, in olden times, were the scenes of many skirmishes and bloody feuds. That other cause is simply this—the eloquent, graphic, racy description of Skye given by my good friend, Sheriff Alexander Nicolson of Kirkcudbright, in his late articles contributed to "Good Words." Himself a son of the "Isle of Mist," gentle and generous, clannish and kind-hearted, to the back-bone a Highlander, the account given by him of his native isle is worthy of himself. The learned Sheriff has likewise published lately in a monthly periodical called the "Gael," a beautiful poetical description of Skye scenery, both in Gaelic and English, of which I may give a brief specimen in each of these languages. The learned gentleman says in Gaelic:—
Lovest thou green grassy glades,
By the sunshine sweetly kist,—
Murmuring waves and echoing caves?
Then go to the "Isle of Mist."
Of Cor-uisge and Quiraing the Sheriff says:—
Is chi thu ard-iogbnadh Chuith-Fhràing,
Le bhaidealan aibheiseach mòr,—
’San Stòrr cho cas le bhinneinean glas,
Eadar do shealladh ’sna neoil.
There towers the wild Quiraing,
With its battlements grim and high,
And the mighty Stòrr, with its pinnacles hoar,
Standing against the sky!
If these lofty pinnacles had tongues to speak, what tales might they relate of the many bloody frays and desperate struggles that took place at their bases in the days of yore. No doubt the aborigines of this and the surrounding Isles had early to defend themselves against the incursions of foreign enemies. The aboriginal people, according to tradition, were a mixture of the ancient Caledonians, or Picts, and the Albanaich, or first settlers of what is now known as the Kingdom of Scotland. The general character of the original population must have been considerably changed by the influx of the Scandinavian enemies, under the command of their sovereigns, the Vikingr, or piratical Kings from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. These Scandinavian rovers appeared on the east coast of England about the year 785, and a hundred years before they obtained a footing in the Western Isles, which they overcame after much hard. fighting, and added them to the Crown of Norway. The Islesmen had great cause to deplore the barbarities of their new oppressors. They destroyed their "cills," or places of worship, which the
[paragraph continues] Culdees had erected some centuries before, and caused desolations and ravages of the most sweeping description in every quarter. Even still, tradition makes mention of the scenes of desperate fights with their piratical foes from the north, although the coasts were well fortified with strong "Dùns," or fortresses, the ruins of which are still distinctly visible. It would be needless, in the meantime, to attempt making mention of the succession of Vikingr, or Kings of the Isles, who reigned therein for several hundreds of years; in short, up to the beginning of the twelfth century, when the powerful dynasty of MacDhòmhnuill, or the Lords of the Isles, had their origin. MacDhòmhnuill was also designated as "Righ nan Eilean," that is, King of the Isles. This great and warlike family sprung from Somerled, Lord of Argyle, and were for a succession of centuries justly renowned for their many achievements and military prowess. At the beginning of the twelfth century, Olave the Red, King of Man, extended his dominion over all the Hebride Isles. He was succeeded by Godred the Black, and one of his daughters, Ragnhildis,
was married to Somerled, King of the Isles, in 1140. From this marriage, therefore, sprung the celebrated dynasty, so well known in the history of our Kingdom as the Lords of the Isles.
The original population of the Hebride Isles, whether Pictish or Scottish, in the reign of Kenneth MacAlpine, must have been materially changed by the perpetual inroads and settlements of the warlike Scandinavians. During the two hundred years that intervened from the time of Harold Harfager to that of Olave the Red, the Western Isles were all along the scenes of wars and bloody engagements with their northern invaders. This change in the population must have been perceptible among all classes, but particularly so in the higher ranks, from the natural tendency of invaders to make their possessions more secure by means of matrimonial alliances with the aboriginal natives. That such was the case is well known from the patronimical names of the inhabitants in subsequent ages. It has, therefore, come to pass that at this early date Celts and Scandinavians became amalgamated, and, as it were, of one blood.
[paragraph continues] It cannot well be ascertained to what extent this mixture was carried, but it would appear that the Celtic race must have predominated, from the fact that the Celtic tongue entirely prevailed, with the exception of the names of localities, which are almost altogether Scandinavian.
Having shortly spoken of the inhabitants of the Western Isles as we find them in the beginning of the twelfth century, I will now briefly allude to the rise, progress, and fall of the powerful dynasty of the Lords of the Isles, and the more so from the circumstance that the influence of that warlike sept extended itself in diversified ramifications throughout not only the Western Isles, but over the length and breadth of Scotland. Before entering on the consideration of any of the feuds that disturbed the peace of the Highlands and Islands, it would be well to consider that the history of this portion of Scotland naturally divides itself into three distinct periods. The first part may embrace its early history and the rise and fall of the great lordship of the Isles; the second part may relate to the various feuds which arose after
the forfeiture of that lordship to the time of James VI., by whose exertions the rebellious clans became more loyal and obedient to the national laws; and the third part may embrace an account of the strenuous exertions of many of the clans to support the House of Stuart, which exertions increased in energy in proportion as the hopes of that unfortunate family became more desperate. It is more immediately to the second part of this interesting but complicated history that we would direct your attention, wherein we see the origin and development of the sovereignty claimed by the Lords of the Isles.
It has been already mentioned that the Lords of the Isles had sprung from Somerled, Lord of Argyle, who was known by the appellation of "Somhairle MacGhillebride na h-uàmha," that is, "Somerled, the son of Gillbride of the cave," so called from his having concealed himself in a cave in Morvern during the invasion of the coast by the Scandinavians. In the year 1158, Somerled invaded the Isle of Man with a fleet of fifty-three ships, routed Godred, the King, and laid the whole island waste. By this time Somerled's
power over all the Western Isles became so great that Malcolm IV., then King of Scotland, became so alarmed for the safety of his kingdom that he could get no rest. On various occasions Somerled made himself grievously obnoxious to his majesty, and in 1164 he declared open war against his sovereign. With a view to accomplish his rebellious plots, he assembled a numerous army from Ireland, Argyle, and the Northern Isles, sailed up the Clyde with one hundred and sixty galleys well manned, landed his forces near Renfrew, and threatened to make a conquest of all Scotland. Here, according to the ancient annals, Somerled was killed. It is related that he was betrayed and assassinated in his tent, when his troops, in great confusion, retreated to the Isles. It would fill volumes to trace out and record the various septs which sprung from the descendants of Somerled, such as the MacIans of Ardnamurchan, the MacIans of Glenco, the MacRuàiridhs, the MacDonalds of Clan Ranold and Glengarry, the MacDonalds of Keppoch, and many others. John, the first Lord of the Isles, the lineal
descendant of Somerled, lived under the reigns of David II. and Robert II., and married Amie, heiress of the MacRuàiridh of Gormoran. He divorced that lady, by whom he had three sons—John, Godfrey, and Ranold. He subsequently married Margaret, daughter of Robert, High Steward of Scotland, by whom he had other three sons—Donald, John, and Alexander. At the death of King David II., the High Steward ascended the throne by the title of Robert II., so that the King had become the father-in-law of John, first Lord of the Isles. This event added much to John's power and influence, and particularly so as he received a royal charter for the lands of Gormoran, regardless of the claims of the first wife's sons, to whom those lands lawfully belonged. Godfrey, the eldest son by the first marriage, resisted these unjust proceedings, and endeavoured to retain his possessions by the power of the sword. The first Lord died at Ardtornish Castle, and was buried with great splendour at Iona. Donald, the eldest son of the second marriage, then became the second Lord of the Isles, and married Mary Leslie, who afterwards
became Countess of Ross, in whose right he became the first Earl of Ross of his family. Out of this event a rebellion arose of such a formidable nature as to threaten a dismemberment of the Kingdom of Scotland. The cause of this rebellion, which resulted in the desperate battle of Harlaw, arose as follows. Walter Leslie succeeded to the Earldom of Ross in right of his Lady, Euphemia Ross, who was daughter of that house. Of this marriage there were two children, a son and a daughter. Alexander, the son, succeeded his father in the Earldom, and Mary became the wife of Donald, Lord of the Isles. Alexander married a daughter of the Duke of Albany, then Governor of Scotland, and son of King Robert II. The only family of this marriage was a daughter, who, being weakly both mentally and physically, became a nun, and resigned the Earldom of Ross in favour of her uncle, John Stuart, Earl of Buchan, to the prejudice of Donald, Lord of the Isles, who supposed himself the nearest heir in right of Mary Leslie, his wife. He consequently claimed his right, but finding the Governor, who thought him already too powerful a
subject, not inclined to do him the justice he expected, he immediately raised an army of fully 10,000 men within his own Isles, and put himself at their head. His soldiers were fully equipped with bows and arrows, battle-axes, dirks, and swords. He made a rapid descent on the mainland, and burst like a torrent on the disputed territories, carrying everything before him. He was boldly attacked at Dingwall by Angus Dubh Mackay of Farr, but Angus was soon repelled, and most of his men were left dead on the field. He daily recruited his forces, by the way, from the Isles, was determined to put Aberdeen in flames, and to recruit his resources with its spoils. He set his army in order on his arrival at Inverness, marched through the counties of Nairn and Moray, committed great excesses at Strathbogie and the Garioch, and set on fire hundreds of hamlets on the lands of Mar. The appearance, however, of a well-equipped army, under the command of the Earl of Mar, allayed the terrors of the Aberdonians. Mar was powerfully assisted by many Lords and gallant Knights from the Angus and Mearns, and from other southern
districts of Scotland. Marching on the village of Inverury, he descried the Highland army close to a village named Harlaw, on the banks of the Ury, near its entrance into the Don. He saw that he had to contend with tremendous odds, but, trusting to the bravery of his leaders, and to the dauntless courage of his steel-clad knights, he resolved to try his fate. He bravely stood at the head of his army, and so did the Lord of the Isles, who was encouraged by many warlike chieftains, such as the MacIntoshes, the Macleans, and the different septs of the Clan Dòmhnuill. It was a moment of dreadful suspense. At length the battle commenced by the setting up of terrific yells and shouts by the Highlanders, who "scrogged" their bonnets, and, battle-mad, rushed like fiends upon the bristling ranks of the enemy. The knights, under Sir James Scrymgeour, received the attack of the Highlanders with much firmness and bravery. They carefully levelled their spears, raised their battle-axes, and hewed down many of the impetuous Islesmen before them. Sweeping forward, they cut their way through the thick columns of the
stern Highlanders, carrying destruction and death at every blow. The carnage was dreadful. Still, the brave Islesmen stood fast and firm, and poured in hundreds around Sir James and his gallant knights, to whom no alternative now remained but speedy victory or death; but, alas! the latter fell to their lot. The disastrous result of this battle was the most sweeping misfortune that ever came over the chief families in Buchan, Aberdeen, Angus and the Mearns, and the provinces around. Several of the families became extinct in the male line. Leslie of Balquhain and his six sons fell in battle. To give an idea of the terrible carnage of that day, the following were found among the slain, viz.:—Sir Alexander Ogilvy and son, Sir Robert Maul of Panmure, Sir Thomas Murray, Sir William Abernethy of Salton, Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum, Sir Alexander Straiton of Lauriston, Sir Robert Davidson, Provost of Aberdeen; five hundred of Aberdeen burgesses, and all the principal gentlemen of Buchan. The Highlanders left nearly a thousand of their brave men on the field, including several chiefs and men of distinction.
[paragraph continues] The bloody battle of Harlaw was fought on 24th July, 1411, and it is difficult to determine on which side the victory lay. Tytler says of it that, "From the ferocity with which it was contested, and the dismal spectacle of civil war and bloodshed exhibited to the country, it appears to have made a deep impression on the national mind. It fixed itself in the music and the poetry of Scotland. A march called 'The Battle of Harlaw' continued to be a popular air down to the time of Drummond of Hawthornden, and a spirited ballad on the same event is still repeated, describing the meeting of the armies, and the deaths of their chiefs, on the battle-field of Harlaw."
In the autumn of the same year, the Duke of Albany, then Regent of Scotland, raised a new army, marched in person at the head of it to the north, seized the Castle of Dingwall, took possession of the lands of Ross, and was determined to subdue the Lord of the Isles. Next season hostilities were renewed, but Donald of the Isles deemed it prudent to surrender his claim to the Earldom of Ross, and to become a vassal to the Scottish Crown.
Speaking of bards and their warlike effusions, it is well known that the Highland chieftains were always accompanied by their bards when they went down to the field of strife, in order to inspire the soldiers with courage. We have a beautiful specimen of this in the war-song of Gaul in the fourth book of Fingal. "Go," said the King of Morven to Ullin, "go, Ullin; go, my aged bard! Remind the mighty Gaul of battle, remind him of his fathers; support the yielding fight, for the song enlivens war." But of the "Brosnachadh-catha," or war-song of the Highlanders, perhaps the most remarkable on record, and certainly so in the Gaelic language, is that of the bard of the Clan Dòmhnuill—Lachlan Mòr MacMhuraich Albanaich. This bard was present at the battle of Harlaw, where he sung this extraordinary war-song to rouse his clan to the highest pitch of enthusiasm before entering on the bloody fray. The poem is 464 years old, and consists of 338 lines. It is a specimen of poetry curious for its alliteration and force. It has a part for every letter of the Gaelic alphabet, and every part consists of vocables commencing with that letter. It shows the
copiousness of the language in epithets, seeing that the number poured out under each letter is almost incomprehensible. The bard must have had a wonderful knowledge of the idioms of his native tongue, and nothing less so of the genius of the warlike tribe that he addressed. He almost exhausted the adverbial epithets of his mother-tongue for the purpose of infusing the spirit of true heroism into the breasts of his warlike clan.
I may give a few lines of this interesting poem for the amusement of such as understand it, and of such as understand it not.
He begins with the letter "A," and says:—
[paragraph continues] And so on with all the letters of the alphabet, but concludes the long poem with these thirteen graphic lines:—
Niel Macdonald, commonly called "Nial" MacMhuraich, and his son Lachlan, were the last of the Clan Ranold family bards, and of the long succession of poets who recorded the illustrious deeds of the clan. Niel Macdonald, who was the fourteenth in lineal descent from Lachlan Mhòr who composed the song at Harlaw, was possessed of some learning, and could write Gaelic well. He kept the records of his clan in Gaelic, wrote their history, and commemorated their talents and prowess in poetic strains. But besides recording what related to the family, he had written volumes of ancient poetry, such as pieces by Ossian, as well as by other ancient bards. It may be interesting to know that, in order to throw more light on these matters, a solemn declaration was made in Gaelic by Lachlan, the bard's son, in presence of the gentlemen afternamed, and said declaration was transmitted to Mr. Henry Mackenzie when composing the Highland Society's Report on Ossian.
I may give a translation in English of this declaration, made in the Island of Barra, on 9th August, 1800.
TRANSLATION FROM THE GAELIC.
"In the house of Patrick Nicolson at Torlum, near Castle Burgh, in the shire of Inverness, on the 9th day of August, 1800, compeared, in the 59th year of his age, Lachlan, son of Niel, son of Lachlan, son of Niel, son of Donald, son of Lachlan, son of Niel Mòr, son of Lachlan, son of Donald, of the surname of MacVuirich, before Roderick MacNeil, laird of Barra, and declared that, according to the best of his knowledge, he is the 18th in descent from Muireach, whose posterity had officiated as bards to the family of Clanranold, and that they had from that time, as the salary of their office, the farm of Staoiligary, and four pennies of Drimisdale, during fifteen generations; that the sixteenth descendant lost the four pennies at Drimisdale, but that the seventeenth descendant retained the farm of Staoiligary for nineteen years of his life. That there was a right given them over these lands as long as there should be any of the posterity of Muireach to preserve and continue the genealogy and history of the Macdonalds, on condition that the bard, failing of male issue, was to educate his
brother's son, or representative, in order to preserve their title to the lands, and that it was in pursuance of this custom that his own father, Niel, had been taught to read and write history and poetry by Donald, son of Niel, son of Donald, his father's brother.
"He remembers well that works of Ossian, written on parchment, were in the custody of his father as received from his predecessors; that some of the parchments were made up in the form of books, and that others were loose and separate, which contained the works of other bards besides those of Ossian.
"He remembers that his father had a book, which was called the Red Book, made of paper, which he had from his predecessors, and which, as his father informed him, contained a good deal of the history of the Highland clans, together with part of the works of Ossian. That none of these books are to be found at this day because when they (his family) were deprived of their lands they lost their alacrity and zeal. That he is not certain what became of the parchments, but thinks that some of them were carried away by Alexander, son of the Rev. Alexander Macdonald, and others by
[paragraph continues] Ronald, his son, and he saw two or three of them cut down by tailors for measures. That he remembers well that Clanranold made his father give up the Red Book to James Macpherson from Badenoch; that it was near as thick as a Bible, but that it was longer and broader, though not so thick in the cover. That the parchments and Red Book were written in the hand in which the Gaelic used to be written of old, both in Scotland and Ireland, before people began to use the English hand in writing Gaelic; and that his father knew well how to read the old hand. That he himself had some of the parchments after his father's death, but that, because he had not been taught to read, and had no reason to set any value upon them, they were lost. He says that none of his forefathers had the name of Paul, but that there were two of them who were called Cathal.
"He says that the Red Book was not written by one man, but that it was written from age to age by the family of Clan Mhuirich, who were preserving and continuing the history of the Macdonalds and of other heads of Highland clans.
"After the above declaration was taken down, it was read to him, and he acknowledged it was right in the presence of Donald Macdonald of Balronald, James Macdonald of Garyhelich, Ewan Macdonald of Griminish, Alexander Maclean of Hoster, Mr. Alexander Nicolson, Minister of Benbecula, and Mr. Allan MacQueen, Minister of North Uist, who wrote this declaration.
(Signed) "Lachlan (X) MacMhuraich"
"Roderick MacNeill, J.P."
The remarkable statement made by Mr. Campbell of Isla, in which he attributed the authorship of the Ossianic poetry to Mr. Macpherson, is no less ludicrous than bold. It is a rash statement which goes in the face of all external and internal evidence on the subject, and shows the truth of the old maxim—"Nihil tum absurdum est, quod non dicitur ab aliquis philosophorum." There are ample proofs that Macpherson was furnished by parties here and there in the Highlands and Islands with manuscripts and fragments of these poems, as may be seen from the Highland Society's voluminous report, from
[paragraph continues] Dr. Clerk's learned dissertation on the subject, and from several other sources. The assertion that Macpherson composed these poems, or translated them from the English into Gaelic, is enough to cause such as really know the language to smile with contempt. The language of these poems is so elegant, so exquisite, so unique, and so different in its vocables and phraseology from any modern dialect of the tongue, that I believe no man in the present age could have composed them. Whether the productions are Ossian's or not, they are undoubtedly very old, and must have preceded the establishment of Christianity in the country. The absence in these poems of any allusions to husbandry, or to the arts and sciences, except those of war and of the chase, are strong proofs of their antiquity. On the other hand, the mention of shades and of ghosts, as well as of such animals—now extinct in Scotland—as the wolf, the elk, the reindeer, strongly corroborates the same fact. Anyone like Macpherson who might now attempt to pawn such poetry on the world as his own (but there is no proof that Macpherson ever did it) would soon betray the cloven foot by
making some incidental reference to something existing in modern times. Besides, Macpherson's knowledge of Gaelic is alleged not to have been very profound, and such would appear from several passages in his translation, wherein it would seem that when he was ignorant of the meaning of an epithet he translated it by substituting a meaning of his own. I may here allude to a communication which Professor Blackie lately sent to "Nether Lochaber," the talented correspondent of the Inverness Courier. That communication was a letter from Mrs. Heugh of Alderly, a lady now in the ninety-sixth year of her age, but still in possession of all her faculties. In that letter she states that she knew Captain Morrison, who, being a good Gaelic scholar, went along with James Macpherson in his tour to the Hebrides to collect the Ossianic poetry. Captain Morrison told her, about the beginning of this century, that he accompanied Macpherson to Skye and to others of the Western Isles, and in course of conversation she heard him say that Macpherson was no more capable of composing these poems than he was of creating the Isle of Skye or of
writing the prophecies of Isaiah! And undoubtedly Captain Morrison was perfectly correct.
There is nothing surprising in Mr. Campbell's not finding in the present day a scrap of Macpherson's Ossian among the Highlanders. The wonder would be if he could find it. For the last seventy or eighty years the customs and manners of the Highlanders are entirely changed. The order of the bards in chieftains’ families has become extinct. It was their province and delight to rehearse the tales and songs of olden times, and it was likewise the delight of the youth in Highland families to spend their evening pastime in chanting these poems, and in vieing with each other who could repeat most of them. These times are gone. The hardships and depressing circumstances to which the Highlanders have been exposed tended to stamp out their social amusements, such as tales and traditions, the singing of warlike songs, the recitation of ancient poetry, and such like. And the fact is that their boat-songs, their reaping-songs, and their love-songs are all but extinct and lost.
But speaking of the long line of bards in the family of Clanranold, I may mention that there was another distinguished bard in later times, who sung the praises of his clan in Lochaber. I allude to John Macdonald, commonly called "Ian Lòm" or "Ian Mànndach." He was of the Keppoch family, and was a great politician as well as a poet. He was born in the reign of Charles I., and enjoyed a pension from Charles II. In 1663 the young heir of Keppoch and his brother were murdered by their cousins, and John was instrumental in getting the murderers punished. Ample vengeance was taken on them in the most cruel manner. They were seized and beheaded at a fountain still pointed out in Lochaber to tourists as "Tobar nan ceann," or "The fountain of the heads."
John, although no soldier, was present at the bloody battle of Inverlochy, between Montrose and Argyle, in 1645. He was a keen Jacobite, and was asked by Alexander Macdonald, son of "Coll ciotach," who acted as second in command under Montrose, if he would join them in the battle? "No," said the bard, "but if you do your duty well to-day,
[paragraph continues] I will do mine in singing your praise to-morrow." He viewed the fight from the battlements of Inverlochy Castle, and next day he composed a song in which he luxuriated like a fiend on the anticipated music of the widows and orphans of the Campbells weeping and clapping their hands in bitter grief for their fallen husbands and fathers! In admiration of this distinguished bard, Mr. Charles Fraser Mackintosh erected a beautiful sculptured monument over his grave in Dun-aingeal, in the braes of Lochaber. The monument was executed by our promising townsmen, the Davidson Brothers, in Academy Street.
Exactly twenty years after the battle of Harlaw, and 214 years before the already-described battle between Montrose and Argyle, Inverlochy was the scene of another desperate and bloody engagement. In consequence of the battle of Harlaw, King James I. was determined to restore order, and for this purpose he held a Parliament at Inverness in the year 1427, and the Lord of the Isles and the other great Highland chiefs were summoned to attend it. On their arrival in the town, upwards of forty of them were
seized by his Majesty and confined in separate prisons. The most notorious of them were brought to trial, condemned, and executed. The majority of them, however, were liberated after certain periods of imprisonment, and it is very remarkable that among these was the Lord of the Isles. He, however, severely felt the indignity he had suffered, and was determined on revenge. He lost no time in calling together his adherents in Ross and the Isles, and with ten thousand men he laid waste the Crown lands near Inverness, and burned the town itself to ashes. On the King becoming aware of this, he hastily collected his troops, and by forced marches at the head. of his army, he overtook the rebels at Lochaber. On beholding the Royal standard, the Clan Chattan and Clan Chameron, two potent tribes that first supported the Earl of Ross, went over to the cause of the King. His Majesty thus strengthened, immediately attacked and routed the rebels, and pursued them so hotly that their leader was glad to sue for peace. "James, however," as an eminent historian tells us, "sternly refused to enter into a negotiation with his rebellious subject on
any other footing than that of an unconditional surrender, and returned to his capital, after having given strict orders to his officers that every effort should be made to apprehend the fugitive Earl. The latter at length, driven to despair by the activity of his pursuers, adopted the resolution of throwing himself on the mercy of his sovereign. Upon the eve of a solemn festival this haughty nobleman presented himself before the King, who, with the Queen and Court, were assembled in the church at Holyrood. He was clothed only in his shirt and drawers; he held his naked sword by the point in his hand; and with a countenance and manner in which destitution and misery were strongly exhibited, he fell upon his knees, and surrendering his sword, implored the Royal clemency. His life was spared, but he was committed to close ward in the castle of Tantallon, under the charge of William, Earl of Angus. While the Earl of Ross was still in prison, the Royal forces which, under the Earls of Mar and Caithness, occupied Lochaber, were surprised and routed by a powerful body of the clans, under the leadership of Domhnull Balloch, full cousin of the Earl of Ross. A
desperate battle was fought at Inverlochy, in which the Earl of Caithness and many of the Royal troops were killed, and the Earl of Mar severely wounded." (A.D. 1431.)
One hundred and thirteen years after this bloody engagement, another battle was fought at Inverlochy between the Frasers of Lovat and the Macdonalds of Clan Ranold. This contest was terrible. It began with the discharge of arrows at a distance, but when their shafts were spent, both parties rushed into close combat, and, attacking each other furiously with their two-handed swords and axes, a dreadful carnage ensued. It was the month of July, 1544, and such was the heat of the day and of the strife, that the combatants threw off every vestige of clothing to their shirts, in which they fought like men frantic with fury. Hence the battle was called "Blàr nan léin"—the "Battle of the Shirts." By this destructive fight the Clan Fraser became nearly extinct. James Fraser of Foyers and four common soldiers were the only survivors of this bloody conflict!
In close vicinity to the town of Inverness, a desperate battle was fought at Clachnaharry,
in the year 1333, between the Clan Chattan and the Munroes of Fowlis. The cause of the battle was this. John Munro of Fowlis, when returning that year with a band of his retainers from Edinburgh, was insulted at Strathardle, in Perthshire. While resting at night, the owner of the field where they lay cut off the tails of their horses. Munro, determined on revenge, made all possible haste to Ross-shire, selected about 400 of his most powerful retainers, returned to Strathardle, devastated the place, killed many of the natives, and carried off all their cattle. On passing homeward through Moy, Mackintosh, the chief, having had an old grudge to Munro, demanded half the spoil, which Munro absolutely refused to give, and proceeded on his journey. Mackintosh, determined to enforce compliance, immediately collected his clansmen, pursued Munro, and overtook him at Clachnaharry, where a bloody engagement took place. Mackintosh had great cause to repent of his rashness, for he and most of his men were slain in the conflict. The locality of thin desperate skirmish is commemorated by a large column erected on the top of the rock
by the late Mr. Duff of Muirtown. Clachnaharry signifies the "Watchman's Stone," on which, in ancient times, the Magistrates of Inverness had a guard stationed to give notice of any hostile approach from the north.
As to the system of clanship, or chieftainship, on which volumes might be written, I have no time to enter. Perhaps there is nothing more remarkable in the political history of any country than the succession of the Highland chiefs, and the long and uninterrupted sway which they held over their followers. The people were divided into small tribes over all the Highlands, and each tribe had its chief, its badges, its war-cries, and its tartan or battle-dress. The chieftains held the power of life and death in their own hands. The consequence was that the authority of the King was generally disregarded. "His mandates," as General Stewart says, "could neither stop the depredations of one clan against another, nor allay their mutual hostilities." This system, then, by repudiating the authority of the sovereign, and of the laws, prevented the clans from ever coming to any general terms of accommodation for
settling their differences. The consequence was that their feuds were interminable, their quarrels endless, and their country for centuries the theatre of petty warfare and bloodshed. How formidable, therefore, were the chieftains at the head of their followers, who counted every cause just and honourable which their chief approved of, who were ever ready to take the field at his command, and who never refused to sacrifice their lives in defence of his person or of his fame. Now, against such men, animated with enthusiasm and often with blind superstition, a king contended with great disadvantage. Yes, and that cold service which money purchases and which authority extorts, was not an equal match for the burning ardour and zeal of the Highlanders, who deemed it their chief end to live and to die in the cause of their feudal lord!
Innumerable were the causes out of which feuds originated, and innumerable the feuds that did originate and end in bloodshedding from the most trifling causes. Insult has been at the root of many a desperate fray, and insult to a chief was deemed as a personal affront to all his followers, and was resented accordingly.
[paragraph continues] By the system of clanship a warlike spirit was cherished, and young chieftains were held in esteem by their clan exactly in proportion to the extent of their desire to cherish a military or peaceable disposition. If they revenged an insult by killing some of the insulting party, they would be lauded and heartily esteemed for giving such proofs of future bravery, but if they allowed the insult to pass unavenged, either from cowardice or terror, they would become universally despised, and would receive neither countenance nor respect from their clan.
In ancient times each clan had generally a fixed meeting-place, where they held their councils of war, and that meeting-place was usually the Castle or residence of the chief. When an emergency arose for an immediate meeting, the "crànn-taraidh," or "fiery cross," was instantly called into requisition. It consisted of a piece of wood or pole half burnt, then dipped into the blood of a goat or lamb, and having at times a stained flag attached to it. Every chieftain had several of these significant beams of alarm in his possession to enable him to despatch them in every
direction. When required, therefore, the messenger set off with it at full speed, and delivered it to the first man he met with at the nearest hamlet. He, in turn, ran to the next hamlet and delivered it there, and so on until it passed through all the hamlets of the chieftain's territories in a few hours, and his vassals instantly assembled. Should any one able to bear arms refuse to obey the call of this mute, blood-stained messenger of slaughter, he would instantly be put to death!
Sir Walter Scott, in the "Lady of the Lake" (canto v., ix), has beautifully described the gathering of the clan at the call of the chief. He says:—
Considering the greatness of the number, the variety, and the complication of Highland feuds from the early periods of clanship, it would be impossible on an occasion of this kind to give an account of even one out of every hundred of them. There is hardly a locality or district in the Highlands and Islands but has been the scene of some bloody feudal rencontre. How endless were the disputes between the clans. There were bloody feuds between the Munroes and the Clan Chattan, between the Clan Chattan and the Camerons, between the Clan Chattan and the Mackays, and between the Mackays and the Rosses. Mr. C. F. Mackintosh lately alluded to the long protracted feud between Mackintosh and Lochiel, relative to which a great number of influential gentlemen held a council in vain on Tomnahurich Hill, in order to reconcile the warlike combatants. What commotions were in the Western Isles from the insurrections of the Macdonalds against the Mackenzies, the Mackays, the Macleans, the Macdougalls, the Camerons, the Campbells, the Frasers, the Gunns, and the different septs of the Macleods! The very names of Macdonald of Sleat, Clanranold,
[paragraph continues] Glengarry, Keppoch, and Glencoe, indicate battles and bloodshedding! Sutherland, Caithness, and Ross-shire were the scenes of serious invasions, and the fields of many fierce engagements. The Macgregors and Colquhouns fought a desperate battle in Glenfruin in 1603, when the latter party were routed with the loss of two hundred men. So very indignant was Colquhoun, Laird of Luss, at this disaster, that he misrepresented the whole affair to King James VI. a little before he quitted Scotland to commence his reign as sovereign of Great Britain. Luss sent up to Edinburgh upwards of 200 bloody shirts of his slain vassals to show the King the cruelty of the heartless invaders, so that his Majesty, without hearing both sides of the question, grew exceedingly incensed at the Macgregors, proclaimed them rebels, and interdicted all his lieges from harbouring a single soul of them. They were hunted like partridges on the mountains by the Earl of Argyle and his deceitful retainers. Heavy fines were imposed on all who sheltered the unfortunate clan. The fines were punctually levied, and as punctually pocketed by Argyle as recompense for
his services against the maligned and persecuted Clan Gregor. Then it was that this powerful but unfortunate sept could sing the plaintive song—
We're landless, landless, landless, Gregarach.
During these feuds, many of the deeds done were painfully heartrending and cruel. For example—owing to a feud betwixt the Clanranolds of Uist and the Macleods of Dunvegan, the Uist men landed at Waternish, on the south-west side of Skye, on a Sabbath morning. On their arrival, they set fire to the church at Trumpan, being full of the Macleods at divine service. The ruins of the church are still entire. All were burned to death but one woman, who escaped and caused the fiery cross to be set abroad. The Macleods soon assembled—sooner, indeed, than the invaders could enter their galleys and sail away. A fierce battle ensued, wherein all the Clanranold men fell. The slain were ranged behind a dyke near the scene of the fight, on the lands of Ardmore, and the stones and turf of the dyke were hurled upon the dead bodies to bury them. Their bones may be picked up there among the stones to this
day. The battle was called "Blàr Milleadh Gàraidh," or "Blàr-Bhaternish," by which name a beautiful piobaireachd was then composed by MacCrimmon.
The island of Eigg was inhabited then by a tribe of the Macdonalds, and the Macleods of Skye, in order to be revenged of the cruel catastrophe at Trumpan, set sail for Eigg to cut off the Clanranolds there root and branch. The Eigg men, seeing the galleys of the enemy approaching from Skye, hid themselves, being several hundreds in number, in a large cave on the shore of the island, which is entered by a narrow opening, but is wide and capacious within. They were soon discovered by footprints in the snow, and as the Macleods could not approach them in the cave, they piled furniture, turf, straw, and such combustibles as they could lay hold of, at the mouth of the cave, set fire to the whole, and suffocated every living soul within it. When I saw the cave forty-five years ago, cart-loads of skulls and other human bones lay scattered about within it.
About the year 1590, Dòmhnull Gòrm Mòr of Sleat discovered that his near relative,
[paragraph continues] "Uisdean MacGhilleaspuig Chléirich," who had been acting as his factor in Uist, had been laying secret plots against him. Uisdean had built a castle or fortress for himself at Peinduin, near Kingsburgh, in Skye, which had neither door nor window at the sides, but was lighted from the roof, where there was an entrance which was arrived at by a ladder that would be drawn up when the party got upon the top of the fortress. The ruin of this castle is still pretty entire. When Uisdean understood that his chief had discovered the plot, he departed to the Long Island to conceal himself. He was a robust, powerful man, who required a strong party to seize him. At length, however, he was apprehended, and carried prisoner to Duntulm Castle, where he was cast into a deep, vaulted dungeon (still in existence), and fed with salt beef, but no water. He died of thirst, uttering fearful screams that resounded through the halls of the castle. His remains were buried in "Reilig Mhòr Mhic Dhòmhnuill"—"the Macdonald's cemetery," near Flora Macdonald's grave, in Kilmuir Churchyard, but about twenty years thereafter his skull and thigh-bones
were exhumed by one of the family, who did not think them worthy of the place, and were thrown into a recess in the walls of the old church, where they lay dry and polished for nearly two centuries. The old church was taken down, and my father, then minister of that parish, buried the bones in the churchyard, in the autumn of 1823.
I may mention one other remarkable feudal battle, and then cease from taxing your patience by making but few more remarks. In 1601, Domhnull Gòrm Mòr of Sleat married Margaret, sister of Sir Roderick Macleod, commonly called "Rory Mòr" of Dunvegan, but "for some displeasure or jealousy conceived against her," he sent her back to her brother. The lady was blind of an eye, but to show all the indignity in his power, her husband procured a one-eyed horse for her, a one-eyed valet, and a one-eyed terrier, and when the one-eyed party arrived at Rory Mòr's castle, he had two good eyes to see the insult that was given him by the chief of the Macdonalds. Sir Rory was determined on revenge, and immediately left Skye to solicit the aid of friendly chiefs in the south, and
particularly so that of the Earl of Argyle, in order to be avenged of the chief of the Macdonalds. In his absence, Donald of Sleat assembled his forces, and invaded the territories of Rory Mòr. Alexander, a brother of Rory Mòr, hastily collected all the fighting men of his clan, and encamped at the base of the Cullin Hills. Next day the combatants met, and fought desperately from the rising to the setting of the sun. The victory, after great slaughter on both sides, fell to Domhnull Gòrm Mòr. He eventually divorced Margaret Macleod, and married a sister of Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail. About forty or fifty years ago, a bagpipe chanter of great calibre was found embedded in moss in the ravine where the battle was fought. The chanter was in an excellent state of preservation, and is, I believe, in the possession of John M‘Kinnon, Esq., Kyle Cottage, Skye.
So much, then, for Highland Feuds, and for all such internal disturbances as marred the peace and prosperity of the Highlands and Islands for a long series of years. Happily, these things have come to an end. The transition state of the Gael is now past. Those
feudal periods are gone wherein it was deemed that the spirit of revenge was the true spirit of heroism and victory. Their steadfast allegiance to their chiefs, their hearts' desire to support them in their differences with hostile tribes, and their readiness to encounter an enemy on the battle-field regardless of all danger, only showed the sincerity and devotedness of their hearts. But since then, those native principles of fidelity which characterised the people of these mountains and glens, have fortunately diverged into other channels, and have been called forth, not any longer for the support of lawless chieftains, but for the interest of their sovereign, their liberty, and their laws. The change is a mighty one, and a blessed one. The Highlanders have their language, their poetry, and their music still left, and need I say that much is done in the present day to support and maintain, nay, if possible, to perpetuate these things for ages to come. On the other hand, their native bravery never left them. They fought in their battles fierce as lions before the invention of muskets, powder, and shot. Even since then, when danger was imminent, they
cast away their firearms and had recourse to other instruments, which they considered more destructive and deadly. Even so late as the battle of Killiecrankie, it is said that the clans earnestly entreated the Viscount Dundee not to engage in person, and told his Lordship that their method of fighting was quite different to that of regular troops. They requested of him to consider that should he be killed, King James's interest might be lost in Scotland. But nothing would dissuade Dundee from engaging at the head of his troops, and he was soon slain. Seeing this, the Highlanders, animated afresh, threw away their plaids, haversacks, and all other loose encumbrances, and marched boldly and deliberately in their shirts and kilts to face their opponents. They grasped their fusils, swords, dirks, and targets, rushed furiously down the hill, dashed through the line of the enemy with fearful carnage, and in an instant completely discomfited General Mackay and his officers. It is said that few such strokes were ever given in Europe as were laid on that day by the Highlanders! Many of Mackay's soldiers were cut down through
the skull and neck to the very breast, and many others had their scalps cut off above the ears like nightcaps. Bodies and cross-belts were severed at one blow, while pikes and scimitars were broken like willow wands!
[paragraph continues] In short, the bravery and loyalty of the Highlanders, ever since the happy termination of the several civil wars that so long distracted the peace of our nation, are well known, and will ever remain as monuments to their credit to the remotest generations. How nobly did our Highland regiments ever distinguish themselves in all quarters of the wide world!
Oft with glory return’d, out of fields from afar,
The stout champions of sharp, hardy strokes, and of war,
Who prefer before luxury, ease, or applause,
To defend their sweet liberty, country, and laws!
By exploits full of hazard, they often were tried;
No retreat was allowed by their courage and pride;
For the custom of fathers renown’d in their life,
Must not change in the offspring engag’d in the strife.